With Hasek Out, Sabres Rally to Down Maple Leafs
By Rachel Alexander
TORONTO, May 23—The NHL's Eastern Conference finals were supposed to be a goaltending show, but when the spotlight came on at Air Canada Centre for Game 1 this afternoon, one of the star players had yielded the net to his understudy. The other remained, although by the end of the day he failed to live up to his billing.
In fact, the only goaltender turning in a notable performance was the one who hadn't been on the marquee at all. Buffalo backup Dwayne Roloson had a career total of 19 minutes of playoff experience, but he led the Sabres to a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and an unusually shaky Curtis Joseph after being thrust into the net for injured all-star Dominik Hasek.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played here Tuesday, but Hasek isn't optimistic that he will be on the ice then, either. After missing 12 games with a groin injury during the regular season, he was re-injured a week ago during Buffalo's second-round series against the Boston Bruins. He had been hoping to play anyway today but was unable to fully extend his body. He returned to Buffalo after today's game to seek more treatment.
"I'm very worried about it," Hasek said before making the two-hour car trip home. "I am not able to go up and down. I am not able to make a butterfly for the rebound because the pain is so big. In practice, you can cheat a little bit, but you can't cheat in the game."
Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff said he knew Saturday night that, barring a miracle recovery by Hasek, Roloson would have to play. He asked his players to keep Hasek's injury a secret, hoping the Maple Leafs would underestimate his club if they found out just before the game that Hasek was missing.
The strategy appeared to work. Buffalo took an early lead and faltered only in the second period, when Toronto went ahead, 3-2. The Sabres then rattled off three consecutive goals to regain the lead for good.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs squandered the opportunity to take advantage of any rust felt by Roloson, who made just 15 starts during the regular season. Toronto finally moved to 5-4 on Steve Thomas's goal with about seven minutes to go in the third period, but the Maple Leafs could not force the game into overtime despite outshooting the Sabres 32-21.
Joseph, who stopped 291 of 313 shots (93 percent) during the playoffs' first two rounds, allowed five goals on Buffalo's first 19 shots and finished with 16 saves. A few of the goals appeared to be on shots he normally would have stopped, although he also was heavily screened at times, often by his own players.
"It seemed like everything they touched turned to a goal," Joseph said. Roloson "played very good for a guy who hasn't played in a while. I need to make the big saves at the right time, and unfortunately today it didn't work out."
Joseph said he and his teammates will take solace in the fact that they also lost Game 1 of their previous two series. Still, they had wanted to get off to a better start today and take advantage of an infectious home crowd. A penalty against Buffalo gave Toronto a man advantage in the opening minutes of play, but Roloson looked calm as he turned aside its attempts.
After Buffalo right wing Vaclav Varada scored the game's first goal at 4 minutes 23 seconds, Roloson looked positively placid, even though Toronto captain Mats Sundin tied the score nine seconds later. Roloson's only previous playoff experience was in the second round against Boston, when he relieved Hasek in a loss.
"When I found out I was going to start, I just tried to relax and not worry about it," said Roloson, who took a pregame walk around downtown Toronto with teammates Paul Kruse and Rob Ray to banish any jitters. "I was pretty nervous in the first period, pretty shaky, but I calmed down after we scored that first goal."
The nine goals scored by both teams were a marked contrast from what was predicted for this series, especially with Buffalo missing 40-goal scorer Miroslav Satan. Satan, who has been out with an ankle injury since the first round, may be back for Game 2 on Tuesday, although after today's game Ruff noted that nothing is shaping up as anticipated.
"I think the script was written for a 1-0 or 2-1 game, and then all of a sudden you see nine goals go in," Ruff said. "I think you have to always just expect the unexpected in these situations."
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